Clenched fists in a rightist party are like outworn clothes. They neither give it a new look, nor a different entity. I imagine this is what some BJP leaders were trying to do when they stood in a row with their clenched fists to show defiance after staging a demonstration against the Congress government at Delhi. Clenched fists are associated with radicals from the left. The BJP is associated with wooden sticks and khaki knickers which its mentor, the RSS, has prescribed.
There is no doubt that the party has to turn a new leaf if it wants to be relevant. But it cannot do so by having its fists clenched. It has to jettison from its back, the RSS, which has been riding it like an old man on the shoulders of Sindbad the Sailor.
This means that the party has to get away from the ideology of Hindutva. It is a yesterday party, as its former ideologue Jaswant Singh said when he was ousted by the BJP. True, he is trekking back into the fold. But it does not indicate that the party is giving up its philosophy of parochialism. Nor has it clarified its stand on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, whose praise landed Jaswant Singh in trouble.
Jaswant Singh had blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for partition, not Jinnah. The reason why the party has to clarify its stand is the hostility the BJP shows whenever the name of Qaide Azam, founder of neighbouring Pakistan, crops up. L.K. Advani had to step down from the party leadership after he said that Jinnah was secular, while paying homage at his mausoleum at Karachi.
The issue that the BJP has to sort out is not whether Jinnah was responsible for the division of the subcontinent but whether his exhortation not to mix religion with politics is acceptable to the party. When it parades Naredra Modi of Gujarat carnage fame at the party’s National Executive meeting at Patna earlier this month, it projects the same policy of preferring religion for achieving pre-eminence in politics.
Modi has an image which projects him in the country as a protagonist of Hindu rashtra. He is in the midst of several cases which implicates him for the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. When the BJP invites him at its Bihar sitting, the party gives a message that he is the party’s mascot in the forthcoming state assembly election and ultimately in parliamentary polls.
It was obvious that the BJP was provoking state chief minister Nitish Kumar who has a secular image and who leads the coalition with the BJP but wants to convey that he is not guided by what the BJP thinks or does. Therefore, he had to cancel the dinner for BJP executive members and return the Rs 5 crore that he had received from Gujarat for flood relief in Bihar.
Following its own agenda, the BJP placed in regional newspapers an advertisement showing Modi and Nitish together on a platform. Bihar has a large Muslim population which could not have been happy over the photo. Nitish had to act to assure the Muslims that the publication of the photo was BJP’s doing. His party, Janta Dal (U), tried to pepper the differences as if it was a personality clash. But Nitish Kumar’s approach was fundamentally different. He does not think that he can live with personalities like Modi if the BJP thrusts on Bihar. Whatever is the JDU thinking, it looks that Nitish Kumar would like to go it alone when the state goes to polls. He may well pave the path for a third front, badly needed in the country.
The BJP is beginning to understand Nitish’s long-term policy. It may therefore fight the state election on its own. Turning its back on Nitish, the BJP under the leadership of Nitin Gadkari, an RSS man, has made it clear that the party would rather sacrifice even an assured victory under Nitish than give up Modi who it wants to project as its prime minister candidate in the next Lok Sabha election. But party has gone over this exercise before and has found that Modi is not an acceptable face. Karnataka had to stop his visit when the state BJP government was contesting a by-election.
Rightist parties all over the world have been a wellspring of new ideas. Why is the BJP stuck at the same thinking since its inception? That Hinduism is in danger is not accepted by by Hindus, who constitute 80 per cent of India’s population. The electorates in Pakistan or Bangladesh do not return the candidates sponsored by the Jammiat Islami which appeals in the name of religion. In these countries also the Muslims who constitute the bulk of population do not think that Islam is in danger. Therefore the Jammiat gets less than a two-digit figure in elections.
The BJP is still the second biggest party in parliament and rules in some seven states. Its validity is not because it placates Hindu extremist elements but because it is considered by the voters as an alternative to the Congress. The left is still absorbed in its outmoded ideology. What do the people do? They want a viable alternative. Therefore, they turn to the BJP when they find the Congress increasingly corrupt and intolerably arrogant.
Were the BJP to become a centrist party and shed its anti-Muslim image, it could provide the alternative. Why doesn’t the party talk about economic programmes? The Congress adopts at every party meeting an economic resolution. The BJP does not even attempt to do so.
The Conservatives in the UK were out of power for 18 years because they were seen as a bunch of right wingers. They recovered only when they were seen adopting progressive steps. With the type of communal agenda the BJP has—and periodically there is an outcry for building the Ram temple where the Babri masjid stood before destruction—the party has little future. The mood of the country is different. It is looking forward to development.
In fact, I am surprised why Jaswant Singh is returning to the BJP without ensuring that it overcomes the tag of a yesterday party. True, his dilemma is that a politician has to have a platform to survive. But this is no basis for compromising with one’s principles. Or, maybe, this is the way the politicians function.
What is being rubbed into Jaswant Singh is that his return may coincide with the return of maverick Uma Bharti. Her qualification is that she jumped into the lap of Murli Manohar Joshi with joy when the Babri masjid was being pulled down, stone by stone. I thought Jaswant Singh was a sensitive person.